This team will develop new ideas about improvisation while working across disciplines and fields. Members will review and synthesize existing literature, identify and explore new avenues of inquiry, and propose new research that expands our understanding of improvisation and the fields in which we find it.

We will examine “in the moment” behavior related to indeterminacy, teamwork, and adaption as well as issues related to planning, design, and organization. Running a basketball play, for example, involves both planned and spontaneous improvisation: players respond to the fluidity of the game and understand how their current actions relate to the larger organizational structures within the team. The coach also improvises: they formulate strategies and train players ahead of time and adapt their strategy to the changing conditions of the game.

This example generates more general questions about improvisation that can be applied to many different contexts: How do we respond “to the moment”? What skills help us respond successfully? How do we work together with others in dynamic environments? How do we create environments that help people improvise? How do we interact with our environment? How do we learn new skills and tools? What is successful improvisation? How can we explore these questions in other fields in the arts, sciences, and humanities?

The Exploring Improvisation in the Arts, Sciences, and Humanities FEAST research team will develop answers to these questions by both surveying existing literature in Critical Improvisation Studies and exploring these ideas in as many different disciples as possible. During the first phase of the project, members will study existing literature in improvisation studies through discussion sessions and curate an annotated bibliography. In the second phase of the project, members will find new examples of improvisation in their home disciplines, comparing them with those from other members of the group. In the third and final stage of the project, the group will synthesize this knowledge into a new understanding of improvisation and explore ways that this knowledge can transform their own fields.

No prior knowledge of the field of Critical Improvisation Studies is required to be a member of this group. Applicants to this group should be willing to do multi-disciplinary reading and learn to discuss ideas with people outside of their own field/major. Ideally, this group will have maximal disciplinary diversity: applicants from all fields are strongly encouraged. If you are interested any issues that relate to the ideas in the above paragraphs, then we welcome your insights and energy.


Faculty Project Lead

Marc Hannaford is a music theorist whose interests lie at the intersection of jazz and improvisation, identity (especially race, gender, and disability), performance, and embodiment. He completed his PhD at Columbia University in 2019 with a dissertation on Muhal Richard Abrams, pianist, composer, and cofounder of the Association for the Advancement for Creative Musicians (AACM). His publications appear in Music Theory OnlineWomen & Music, and Sound American, and the Society for Music Theory’s Jazz Interest Group awarded him the 2019 Steve Larson Award for his paper, “Affordances and Free Improvisation: An Analytical Framework.” As a committed pedagogue, Marc helps students develop personal engagements with music via the critical exploration of manifold approaches: theoretical, analytical, historical, and creative. He is also an improvising pianist, composer, and electronic musician who has performed and/or recorded with Tim Berne, Ingrid Laubrock, Tom Rainey, Tony Malaby, and William Parker.

Prior to joining the School for Music, Theatre, and Dance, Marc worked as a Lecturer in Music Theory at Columbia University. He taught courses in music theory and analysis, twentieth century music, jazz theory, and black experimental music, among others. The Department of Music and Graduate School for the Arts and Sciences both recognized his teaching and research with the Mason Fellowship in Music and Serwer Fund Award. While at Columbia Marc also cofounded the Comparing Domains of Improvisation Discussion Group, which provides a forum to compare and contrast the concept and practice of improvisation in various creative and quotidian domains, and the Diversity in Music Theory discussion group, which aims to expand and deepen members’ approaches to cultivating diverse and inclusive research, teaching, and service within music theory. 

Originally from Australia, Marc discovered academic music theory through performance and his conservatory training as a jazz pianist. In 2010 he completed a research project that adapts composer Elliott Carter’s rhythmic language for improvised contexts. This convergence of contemporary composition, rhythmic complexity, and improvisation led him to the United States and remains a secondary research interest.

Between research, teaching, and performing, Marc enjoys cooking, walking his dog (Reggie), and outdoor activities such as hiking and camping.